/ 7 December 2009

Hollywood se voet

Have you heard? American star Jennifer Hudson will be playing Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in an upcoming biopic. I’m not sure what your first reaction to that is, but mine was: Winnie can sing?? Not the Creative Workers’ Union of SA, however. In true trade-union style they immediately decried this Western imperial domination of a local industry and demanded national auditions and free hats for everyone. Or something like that.

Union general secretary Oupa Lebogo said: ”This decision must be reversed, it must be stopped now. If the matter doesn’t come up for discussion, we will push for a moratorium to be placed on the film being cast in South Africa. We are being undermined, there is no respect at all,” TimesLive reported.

And of course, middle-class South Africans everywhere were disgusted. They probably stopped listening at the word moratorium.

”Im sick and tired of all this B@#LS&^T that’s going on in SA,” said one commenter ferociously. ”These people keep on complaining of all the wrongs, yet they are so tired to lift their ass up and do anything. Why didn’t they think of it and do something before the foreigners did?”

Hear hear! I’m sure you’re saying right about now. Followed immediately by that favourite argument: Oscar-winning and bankable Hollywood stars will draw in the audiences! This is good for us. The same commenter thought so. ”Name just one actor/actress that will generate money and lure people to the movie house in South Africa … NOT ONE and that is a fact.”

I’m almost sad for the Creative Workers’ Union. I wished they could’ve been a little more, well, creative. Demanding people take you seriously is so nineties revolutionary. Because all they had to do was consult a list of South African films starring big Hollywood stars and take a look at their box-office results. Wham bam — argument won.

Remember Goodbye Bafana? It’s OK if you don’t — no one else does. The story of Nelson Mandela’s friendship with a prison warder was brought to us by the acclaimed director of The House of the Spirits and starred Hollywood star Joseph Fiennes. The numbers say it all. It cost a whopping $30-million to make and brought in under $3-million and received virtually no release in the US.

You think Winnie director Darrell Roodt would have learned from Cry the Beloved Country. It made even less in the US with $676 525, despite starring heavyweight James Earl Jones.

And then there’s Drum which, though it featured the fabulous Taye Diggs, failed to make much of an impression at the box office here or abroad.

The logic has not worked for them and it certainly didn’t work when incorporated into Hansie, as anyone who had to sit through the accent of the American actress playing his wife in that flop can attest to.

So urgent is our desire to be vindicated by Hollywood that we forget the massive irony at work here. The movies that have been massive successes — District 9, Tsotsi and Jerusalema — for example, featured South Africans in all the lead roles. District 9 was most notable for its disregard of American expectations and unashamedly South African accents, actors and themes. If you haven’t heard that movie’s success story I can’t help you out from under that rock but I can tell you that as of November it made a worldwide total of $200-million, more than six times its estimated production budget of $30-million.

Is it because there were South Africans in the lead? No, it was because it was a damn good film. But the presence of Hollywood actors in important movies about our past have historically been failures, and ones that are stupid to repeat.

”I don’t think [anyone but a South African] can even begin to understand what we mean when we say Winnie is the mother of the nation,” actress Florence Masebe sniffed. Winnie is no mother of mine, but if I were to see a movie about her I’d like to spend my time immersed in a good plot. Not cringing at the accent.

You can read Verashnis column on the M&G Online every Monday, and follow her on Twitter here.